dog growling, what do you do if an off-leash dog approaches you while you are walking a dog?

What To Do When An Off-Leash Dog Approaches When You’re Walking Your Dog

Walking your dog is one of the many pleasures that come with sharing your life with a pet.

Both of you enjoy the fresh air and exercise, but a loose dog can transform this relaxing activity into an emergency.

Off-leash dog attacks happen when dog walkers encounter stray dogs, dogs that have gotten loose from yards or houses, or dogs that have pulled free of their owners’ leashes.

You can prepare yourself for this scenario.

With the right knowledge and strategies, you could avoid problems and be ready to take swift action if things go badly.

Is It Okay to Let a Dog That You Are Not Familiar With Meet the Dog You Are Walking?

The short answer to this question is that the encounter will probably not result in anything bad happening, but you should still try to avoid it.

Letting the dog approach and engage your dog may only result in some sniffing and wagging.

Your dog might also gain more confidence around other dogs after a pleasant social interaction.

These positive outcomes, however, only arise during a best-case scenario. Contact with a strange dog could expose your dog to canine diseases because you have no way to know the other dog’s vaccination history.

Furthermore, the dogs might snarl, snap, or even fight if either one of them turns aggressive.

A strange dog might be confronting you because it wants to defend territory. Your dog might get scared and snap in self-defense or feel the need to defend you.

To decide what to do if an off-leash dog approaches, you need to understand leash reactivity and dog body language.

What Is Dog Leash Reactivity?

The leash limits your dog’s ability to navigate a social encounter with a strange dog properly. When two dogs are off-leash, they will circle each other.

When your dog is on a leash and the other is loose, your dog lacks freedom of movement.

This may trigger fear and anxiety, which could cause your dog to initiate an attack.

Alternatively, the strange dog might sense your dog’s vulnerability or misinterpret its limited movement and attack.

Leashes stress out some dogs more than others during dog interactions. You need to be aware of how much this affects your dog.

When approached by a loose dog, you should assume your dog might become nervous.

What To Do When An Off-Leash Dog Approaches When You’re Walking Your Dog

Let’s take a look at some of the things you can do to prepare for an encounter with an off-leash dog and how to handle the situation when it happens.

Learn How to Judge the Body Language of an Off-Leash Dog

You can gain insight into the intentions of a loose dog when you understand dog body language.

This knowledge will help you judge how your dog is responding to the situation as well.

Signs of dog-friendliness:

Loose, bouncy stride
Open and panting mouth
Full-body wagging
Neutral ear position


Signs of dog aggressiveness:

Tail held high
Snarling, revealing top teeth
Stalking toward you with head low
Raised hair on back
Ears laid back flat


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How to Prepare for an Encounter with an Off-Leash Dog

As a pet parent, you have a responsibility to educate yourself about potential threats and prevent them if possible.

Before leaving on your walk, you should:

Train your dog to understand and respond to your commands
Study dog body language
Have some dog treats
Have an air horn, umbrella, or can of pepper spray
Understand your options and be ready to make decisions
Learn how to practice situational awareness


Situational awareness is an important self-defense technique for you whether you’re walking a dog or not.

To detect potential threats as soon as possible, you should scan and evaluate your surroundings regularly.

This could give you a chance to spot a loose dog at a distance, giving you time to change direction and elude the problem.

What to Do If a Friendly Off-Leash Dog Approaches Your Dog

If you see a dog approaching that appears to be friendly, you still need to be prepared. Here are some things to consider:

Control your emotions so that your dog does not become immediately alarmed.
Look at your dog to judge reaction to approaching dog.
Signs of fear or aggression in your dog mean that it might snap at the friendly dog.
Encourage your dog with a treat to keep walking alongside you, especially if the other dog gets really close.
Position yourself between your dog and the off-leash dog.
Change direction and walk away if you have time but do not turn your back on the off-leash dog.
Do not run because this could trigger the loose dog’s instinct to chase.
Distract the approaching dog by tossing out a few treats to gain more time to leave.
Command the loose dog to stay away with words like “no,” “go home,” or “stay.” Use a firm tone but do not scream.


When the off-leash dog is relatively friendly, your distractions and calm departure should prevent a confrontation.

The owner of the loose dog might even show up while you’re trying to leave. In that case, ask the person to get the dog under control.

If you repeatedly see the same dog wandering your neighborhood, you may want to track down the owner.

You could inform the pet parent that the dog is a concern and needs to be secured better in its yard.

If you can’t find the owner of a loose dog, you can contact your local animal control authorities.

What to Do If an Aggressive Dog Approaches You

In this worst-case scenario, you could hear barking and snarling or see a dog approaching swiftly in a stalking pose, which means trouble.

Try to distract the approaching animal with treats.
Shift yourself between your dog and the loose dog.
Command the dog to stay away.
Open an umbrella to make a barrier against the dog, blast an air horn at it, or discharge pepper spray.
Find a barrier like a fence or parked car to get behind.
If your attempts to discourage the dog’s approach work, then walk away while maintaining distractions and deflections.
Stay as calm as possible throughout encounter because this could make the off-leash dog lose interest.


Unfortunately, these techniques to avoid an altercation with an aggressive dog might not work.

If a dog fight erupts:

Do not try to pull the dogs apart because either dog might bite you in the heat of battle.
Let go of the leash so that your dog can move freely.
Kick the attacking dog on the belly or rump. This could make the aggressive dog disengage.
Grab the off-leash dog by the hind legs and pull it away from your dog.
Continue to kick the strange dog if it persists in attacking.
Once the dog backs down, leave the area without turning your back.
When you reach safety check your dog for injuries and report the dog attack to animal control.


Should I Pick Up My Small Dog When Threatened by an Aggressive Dog?

Generally, you should not pick up your small dog. This could cause the attacking dog to lunge at you and injure you.

Holding your dog gives the aggressive dog a single target and undermines your ability to defend yourself.

Kicking the aggressive dog will usually distract it from your dog and may provide time for the dog’s owner to show up and catch the loose dog.

However, if you’re attacked by multiple dogs, then you might have to pick up your small dog to save its life.

Educate Yourself and Be Ready for an Emergency

Although you may never experience the horror of an off-leash dog attack, you’re almost certain to encounter an unsupervised dog eventually while walking your dog.

As with most things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Once you know what to do if an off-leash dog approaches, you’ll avoid panic and respond strategically in a bad situation.

For the sake of your dog’s safety, work on obedience training and have a defense plan in place before you leave the house.

Your forethought could spare your dog a traumatic episode and injury.

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